If your child is still breastfeeding into toddlerhood and beyond, you may be curious if you can potty train your toddler before weaning. The answer is, it depends.
My first two children both potty trained soon after they turned two. But the oldest didn’t wean until she was 2.5 years, and my second was over 3 when she weaned.
But my third child was much slower to potty train. Honestly, that was my third experience with potty training and not my first, because it let me know I wasn’t doing anything “wrong…” every kid is just different! With that said, he was past three before he was regularly using the potty. He weaned at 2.5 when I was pregnant with my fourth child, so unlike my daughters, he potty trained after he weaned.
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Every child is unique and will develop at their own pace, so there’s no definitive answer as to whether you should wean or potty train first. However, there are a few things you should keep in mind if you’re thinking about toilet training your toddler before he or she is ready to wean. Keep reading for some tips on how to navigate potty training a breastfeeding toddler.
Signs that your child is ready to potty train
There are a few key things to look for before you start potty training. According to the Mayo Clinic, your child should be able to:
- Stay dry for at least two hours at a time: If you notice a dry diaper for several hours, that’s a good sign.
- Walk and sit independently: It makes it much easier if your child can get to the toilet (or little potty) by themselves. Bonus points if they’re also able to pull their own pants up and down.
- Follow simple instructions: Following easy directions, like “Let’s walk to the potty,” or “Go get the ball,” shows that your child can understand what’s going on.
- Communicate that they need to go: Whether your toddler can actually say they need to go potty, or if they just take you by the hand and drag you to the toilet, either works.
In addition, your child hopefully shows interest in becoming a “big kid,” whether that means using the potty like an older sibling or wearing big kid undies.
Notice that none of these skills or behaviors have anything to do with whether or not your child is breastfeeding. They’re two separate issues.
Preparing to potty train
Getting ready to potty train can be exciting but also daunting for parents. If you are breastfeeding, you may be wondering if you can potty train before weaning.
The good news is that you can potty train while breastfeeding! There is no need to wait until your child is completely weaned before beginning this process. In fact, many experts believe that having continuity in routine helps make potty training easier. So you don’t want multiple big changes at once (like potty training and weaning both within a few months of each other).
RELATED: Benefits of toddler breastfeeding
There are some things you can do to get yourself and your child ready for potty training. For example, you can read potty training books. Look for ones that talk about the process in a positive and developmentally appropriate way.
You can also start to talk to your child about going potty. It’s helpful for your child to see you or their sibling going potty. Explain what it is and why people do it. Use simple words and short sentences that your child can understand.
If you (and your child) are feeling ready to begin potty training, then go for it! Just make sure you have at least a long weekend to dedicate to focusing on your potty training child while you’re just hanging around the house. You’ll need to pay a lot of attention to catch accidents (and there will be accidents).
It can also be helpful to make a “potty chart” where your child can get stickers for every time they go in the toilet. They can then cash in their stickers for a prize (like choosing a new book at the store).
How to potty train a breastfeeding child
As I said earlier, each child is different. My first child easily potty trained in 3 days using the “boot camp method.” She was bare-bottomed the first day, but ready for loose pants (no panties) by the second day. The third day, she was given some big girl panties. While she had some occasional accidents afterwards, it was a one-and-done process.
With my second child, we tried the 3 day potty training boot camp again, but it didn’t really “stick” the first time. We waited a month or two, then tried again, and it went much better.
The third one just wasn’t ready. I don’t know if it was a boy thing or what (many people report that boys are harder to potty train than girls), but he just wasn’t having it. He didn’t care about big kid undies, he hid to go poop, he just didn’t want to poop in the toilet. I honestly don’t remember what the turning point was, but it was a much more gradual process with him.
What if your child still nurses at night?
Potty training before your child is night weaned presents an extra challenge, because that means your child is still taking in fluid all night but probably not getting up to go to the bathroom.
Most kids won’t stay dry overnight for several months after their initial potty training, so it’s smart to let them wear diapers to bed (I would tell my child that they were special night-night diapers). Try to get up early in the morning to take them potty immediately and change them out of their diaper so they don’t get used to peeing in it again.
If you want to night wean your child, that’s fine, but don’t try to do it at the same time as potty training. When you’re ready, here’s tips for gentle night weaning.
RELATED: Gentle night weaning for your toddler in a week
Tips for making the potty training process easier
The more practice and celebration you have for potty training, the easier it will be. Here’s a few of my favorite potty training tips:
- Get lots of fluid in your child when you’re going through the potty-training process. That will help them “go” more often and give them more chances to practice. You can push foods that have lots of water, like watermelon, or give them extra water to drink. One great thing about potty training a nursing child? Breast milk is a fluid! So you’ll be giving your child extra chances to practice just by breastfeeding.
- Praise every step in the right direction. Even if you catch your child mid-poop, sit them on the potty, and then manage to get some in there, tell your child how exciting it is that they pooped in the potty. That way, they know that it’s a behavior worth repeating.
- Use little rewards. While I generally prefer intrinsic motivation, this is one of those times when bribery is okay. One of my favorite tricks is to give my child a sticker every time they use the potty. They can put the sticker on their potty, and hopefully after a week or so the potty will be covered in stickers.
- Go straight to undies. If you’re trying to potty train over a weekend or a week, diapers and even pull-ups can sabotage your child’s progress. They do such a good job absorbing liquid that your child may not notice that they’ve peed. Instead, just give your child underwear from the beginning. While there may be a little more laundry at first, you’ll ultimately reach your goal faster.
Conclusions on potty training a breastfeeding child
So there you have it – all the information you need to potty train your nursing toddler. As with any new skill, there may be a bit of a learning curve at first, but soon enough your little one will be using the toilet like a pro.
If you have any other questions about potty training or want some additional advice, let me know in the comments.